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Young Minnesota sheriff's deputy, killed by cross-border spree killer in 1978, to be memorialized

In August 1978, Deputy Richard Magnuson had been at the Roseau (Minnesota) County Sheriff’s Office for about 2 ½ months. On Aug. 2, 1978, his life was cut short at the age of 20 when he was the final victim of a series of killings by Gregory McMaster.

Richard Magnuson.jpg
Deputy Richard Magnuson worked at the Roseau County Sheriff's Office for only two months before he was shot and killed in 1978.
Contributed / Roger Magnuson
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ROSEAU, Minn. — Deputy Richard Magnuson is remembered by his brothers as athletic, musical and kind. He ran cross country and track, played the guitar and was set to be married in the fall of 1978. He was the second-youngest of five boys in the Magnuson family, and grew up on his parents’ hobby farm in International Falls, Minnesota. He started working for the Roseau County Sheriff’s Office in 1978.

“His life came to a short end as an adult,” said Roger Magnuson, the youngest Magnuson brother. “He wasn’t an adult for very long, so I really didn’t get to know him.”

In August 1978, Richard had been a deputy in Roseau County for about two and a half months. On Aug. 2, 1978, his life was cut short at the age of 20 when he was the final victim of a series of killings by Gregory McMaster.

Soon, Richard will be memorialized in Roseau when the stretch of Highway 310 between Roseau and the Canadian border is designated as the Deputy Richard K. Magnuson Memorial Highway. Roger Magnuson says it means a lot to his family that Richard will be remembered in this way.

“Just the idea that they haven’t forgotten about him, you know, he put his life on the line for the community because we don’t know how many more people would have gotten killed by this person,” Roger Magnuson said.

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McMaster was originally from New Haven, Connecticut, and in the summer of 1978, he was on the run. According to a 2011 article in the St. Catharines Standard, a daily newspaper in Ontario, Canada, he was already in trouble with the law in his home state, and fled to Canada.

In late July, he killed Louis Bertrand of Drummondville, Quebec, and stole his truck. He killed two more in Canada while driving south to the U.S.-Canadian border.

Around midnight on Aug. 2, 1978, McMaster drove through the border without stopping, Richard was dispatched to intercept McMaster, a routine task for county deputies, according to Robert Tuttle, a retired border patrol agent in Warroad, Minnesota.

“Most of the time when they had border run throughs it was kids that were taking advantage of the lower drinking age in Canada,” said Tuttle, who was around 10 years old when Richard was killed.

“Of course the ports were closed when you wanted to come back home so they would just drive around the columns hoping they didn’t run into anybody,” he said. “Your typical border run through in those days was a non-threat. In this case, Mr. Magnuson ran into a bad one who had already killed two or three people prior to Richard Magnuson.”

Richard Magnuson 2.jpg
Soon, Magnuson will be memorialized in Roseau when the stretch of Highway 310 between Roseau and the Canadian border is designated as the Deputy Richard K. Magnuson Memorial Highway.
Contributed / Roger Magnuson

When Richard pulled McMaster over, McMaster opened fire on him, shooting him 10 times with a .22-caliber gun.

McMaster fled to a liquor store in Badger, Minnesota, where he asked for directions to Interstate 29, but got lost on the way and ended up close to where he shot Richard. He was intercepted by deputies and was taken into custody.

John and Margaret Magnuson, Richard’s parents, were already in Roseau visiting Richard on the night he was shot and killed. Roger said his father had been on a ride-along with Richard that same night.

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Roger received a call around 1 a.m. on Aug. 2 from the Roseau County Sheriff’s Office saying that Richard had been shot, but he says the severity of Richard’s injuries weren't immediately revealed.

“They kind of downplayed the injury, and just basically told me that he was shot in the leg and didn’t give me any more details than that,” he said.

He called his family living in Roseau that his parents were staying with, and they told him to get to the hospital immediately.

Roger, his brothers Dave and Ed, and their wives got into Ed’s car and started driving to Roseau from International Falls. On the way, they were pulled over for speeding.

“Once they found out who we were and why we were heading that way, they actually told us not to slow down for towns, just to drive safely, but get there as quick as you can,” said Roger. “They said there would be no traffic on the roads and we never saw another car.”

Marlin Magnuson, one of Richard’s older brothers, was living in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and also drove to Roseau that night.

“There wasn’t much chance that he was going to make it with that many bullets in him,” said Marlin.

Throughout the day, community members donated blood and doctors fought to save him, but eight hours after Richard was shot, he died.

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In 1978, McMaster pleaded guilty and was convicted of first-degree murder in Minnsota for killing Richard, and served time in a prison in Stillwater, Minnesota.

While McMaster was imprisoned in Minnesota, Sheriff Paul Knochenmus lobbied in Washington and Canada to change laws that allowed McMaster to serve time on both sides of the border.

"Before that legislation, if by some quirk he had been found not guilty in Canada, we wouldn't have been able to get him back here," Curt Hauger, former Roseau County sheriff and deputy under Knochenmus, told the Grand Forks Herald in 2012.

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McMaster was extradited to Canada in 1992. A representative from the Correctional Service of Canada confirmed that McMaster is still under the jurisdiction of the CSC, and that he has been serving an indeterminate sentence since Jan. 16, 1997 for second degree murder and manslaughter.
While serving time in Canada, McMaster has gone on to become a writer and prison reform activist. His published essays about prison conditions from the ‘90s and early 2000s can be found online and in journals like the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, a Canadian academic journal. McMaster has filed, won and settled multiple lawsuits against CSC while imprisoned. In 2019, he spoke about harm reduction in prisons as part of a lecture series at Ryerson University, and the audio of his lecture is available on YouTube.

Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust is still working out the final details for the highway dedication in honor of Richard, but hopes to hold a ceremony mid-May.

In Minnesota, highway designations are a legislative process. Dan Fabian, current mayor of Roseau and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives for District 1A, introduced the bill to dedicate the portion of Highway 310 to Richard in the 2019-2020 legislative session, along with a bill to dedicate another stretch of highway near Roseau to Patrol Inspector Robert Lobdell, a border patrol officer killed in 1928.

Fabian had lived in Roseau for two years before Richard was killed.

“For the community it was pretty raw and quite frankly, it had never happened before, where somebody had been killed in the line of duty, except for back when Patrol Agent Lobdell was killed, so it was a very unusual situation,” said Fabian.

He credits Tuttle for helping Richard and Lobdell get recognized for their service.

While neither bill passed that year, Rep. John Burkel, who was elected in District 1A, revived the efforts in 2021 in the house, with Sen. Mark Johnson authoring the bill in the senate.

“It really comes down to remembrance,” said Tuttle. “It’s a big part of history in this county - you have a law enforcement officer who was killed in the line of duty, performing his job and unfortunately time can make you forget about it.”

In 2007, the Roseau County Emergency Responders Memorial was created in Roseau, which honors Richard, Lobdell and Terry Pearson, an EMT who was killed in an ambulance crash near Greenbush in 2005. He says the highway dedications will be even more visible.

“This is going to be seen by literally hundreds and thousands of people a day, which is a good thing,” he said.

Both Roger and Marlin plan to be present at the highway dedication ceremony for their brother.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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